In the spirit of our Singapore food review index, JUNK reports from Hong Kong on food that we encountered over there. If you’re open to let someone else do the thinking, and you happen to be in that neck of the woods, check out our bite-sized JUNK food reviews for what you should be eating next! (or not!)
It was raining when I finally found Hotal Colombo, a place with such a narrow frontage, it’s genuinely a hole in the wall. It’s also one of those annoying no reservations, seated “when all are here” places. But I was early, the place was empty. My friend had not yet arrived. I asked if if could sit down. The hostess apologetically asked if all in my party were here. I said no. There was silence. “I can stand in the rain outside, it’s okay, I understand how it is with these places.“ “No please don’t.” Ok. “As an alternative, I can stand in the doorway to wait.” The waitress looked at my rotund frame filling it. “No, please don’t stand in the doorway”.
Moments later, I found myself seated comfortably alone. I accepted their suggestion of a Sri Lankan beer. The emptiness of the restaurant gave me a chance to survey the place. It looked Wes Anderson by way of early wallpaper magazine neo jet-age curvilinear romanticism. It also felt twee as hell, with pastel shades, neat tiling and a frontage neatly stocked with all sorts of Sri Lankan commestibles, only for show, you understand.
My friend turn up drenched. Pleasantries were exchanged in split second as she crashed into her seat. The waiter came by and just as we were about to order, I paused to ask “ Why is it HOTAL and not HOTEL?” “It’s how it sounds when it’s pronounced in Sri Lanka. We think it adds to the casual vibe of the place.” It was strange answer; But when I headed back to check the restaurant’s website, it explained that Sri Lanka is filled with lots of tiny eating places with grandiose names; One of the more popular ones is ‘Hotel’ something or other : ‘Hotal’ is the phonetic spelling of the way it’s pronounced over there. charming.
We were recommend a meal of Chicken Kothu, Devilled Shrimps, Black Pork Kari, an Egg Hopper and an extra Prata. In short? Everything was fantastic and authentic; Especially more so on a wet day in HK and after countless cantonse meals. The comforting familiarity of spice and chilli heat came as a wave of comfort. The Hopper, a kind of crispy bowl shape similar to thosai with a wobbly egg at its base, took us back to Little India with its fermented rice tang and light crispness. The Devilled Shrimp Sambal was thick, sweet and brightly spicy and had us think how good it would have been with coconut rice. But the undoubted star of the meal was the Black Pork Curry, a coconut milk free curry with the aroma and heat of cumin and black pepper over chunks of tender pig. It was unexpectedly good; We took our time eating that, we even wiped the bowl with our prata.
What seemed like not very much, filled the both of us quick. We looked around and the restaurant had reached capacity. We declined dessert but they didn’t let us go till we had a shot of liquor and some gummy sweets. A friendly, happy way to end the meal.
Why would a Singaporean eat Sri Lankan in HK? We had our doubts at first, but if you come to think of it, there is nothing equivalent to this in Singapore, A tidied up version of Sri Lankan street food. It may be a bit contrived, a bit too hipster Ang Mo, but hell, it’s a slick package. And for a while, reminded us what our South East Asian tongues need away from home. Aromatic, complex heat.